There has been a mixed reaction in Kilkenny to initial details of the new-look Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
The scheme provides funding to enhance communities through things like streetscape and infrastructure improvements , and there is always demand for it. Urlingford, Kells, Piltown and Ballyhale were recent beneficiaries of the scheme in Kilkenny.
The scheme is targeted at towns and villages with populations of fewer than 10,000. Applications can range from €20,000 to a maximum of €100,000.
A new framework for this year was recently announced in Sligo by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’ Connor. It aims to address the need for greater collaboration and support for town centre renewal across the country, with an emphasis on the role that the business community can play in working closely with local authorities and other key stakeholders.
Local TD John Paul Phelan has welcomed the scheme, which he says will be of enormous benefit to towns and villages throughout Kilkenny.
“It involves three key steps. These include a Stakeholder Engagement and Health Check which involves understanding your town and the key stakeholders, identifying strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities,” said Deputy Phelan.
“The second step sees the establishment of a Town Centre Management Partnership or ‘Town Team’ which will have the support of all the stakeholders involved at step one. The final step sees the group prepare and implement a Town Centre Plan. This plan should clearly express the vision for the town, the actions required, and who is responsible for what. Kilkenny is full of vibrant, promising hubs and working together, we can really give them a lift.”
However, the reaction from local councillors has been slightly less enthusiastic. At this week’s meeting of Kilkenny County Council, director of services Tim Butler outlined the details and told the members that the Department was seeking expressions of interest by May 17.
Cllr Tomas Breathnach noted that funding was allocated nationally, and did not specify a minimum allocation to Kilkenny.
“That puts huge pressure on us,” he said.
The Labour Party councillor said a two-year approach might be looked at for expressions of interests, where some could be progressed this year but those that don't make it could be 'ready to roll' in 2018.
Cllr Pat Dunphy said he felt the timeframe of May 17 was very tight. He also said there was a lack of clarity as to what the new framework would entail.
“We need this spelled out a bit clearer,” he said.
Cllr Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere said he welcomed the funding, but wasn't overly in favour of the way it was being presented.
“It seems to be very business oriented and tourist oriented,” he said.
The Skeogh councillor asked if there was a minimum population needed to apply. He said he felt the previous scheme was a better one, and the new one was 'very, very thrown on us'.
Mr Butler said that, to the best of his knowledge, there was no minimum population size.
Cllr Patrick O' Neill noted the scheme was very different from last year, and was concerned it was going to make things trickier. Cllr Maurice Shortall said it was a shame such a significant allocation was being made in such a short space of time.
Mr Butler said the important thing now was to get agreement from groups and get applications in as soon as possible. He said the timeframe was out of the council's hands.